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PDF-X conversion is a pain in the ass. For novels and text-heavy books that contain few or no illustrations, consider avoiding this step entirely by one of the following methods:

  • Upload your book to KDP or Ingram in Microsoft Word format. (And remember, if you don’t have Word, you can export Google Docs in this format.)
  • Use Reedsy’s online editor to convert your book.
  • If you write in Scrivener, use that to convert your book.

If you’re a masochist, or just technically curious, read on.

About the PDF-X Standard

PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3, and PDF/X-4 are subsets of the PDF standard specifically intended for printing. Unlike normal PDFs, PDF/X files must include embedded fonts and color profiles, as well as specially defined printable areas such as MediaBox, TrimBox and BleedBox. All this information is embedded in the document so that any printer can print the file without needing external resources, such as system fonts and color definitions.

Do not confuse PDF/X with PDF/A. The former is for printing, the latter is for preserving archival documents. Many word processors, including Microsoft Word and Libre Office Writer, will export to PDF/A but not PDF/X.

When submitting your book to Ingram Spark or other printers, you must use one of the PDF/X formats. If you submit a PDF/A, they will reject it.

Which format should I use?

If the interior of your book does not contain color, choose PDF/X-1a. If your book interior does contain color, choose PDF/X-3 or PDF/X-4, whichever the publisher supports.

You can choose PDF/X-3 or PDF/X-4 for black-and-white interiors, but some PDF converters (such as Apple’s Quartz filter) may embed a color profile that your printer doesn’t like. Ingram Spark will reject a PDF/X-3 for a black-and-white interior if it doesn’t like the color profile. PDF/X-1a is safest for black-and-white interiors. (Note that “black-and-white” includes grayscales.)

How can I convert to PDF/X?

Virtually all of the easy-to-use PDF/X conversion tools are paid commercial products. The free and open-source tools listed below generally require substantial technical skill, patience, and perserverance to use correctly.

Adobe PDF Pro

Adobe PDF Pro works on Windows and Mac. It requires a subscription and costs $14.99/month, which may be a problem for many authors who only want to convert one or two books a year.

PDF Pro is well documented and fairly easy to use, though the conversion process involves uploading documents to Adobe Cloud and then downloading converted results. PDF Pro will convert to PDF/X from standard PDF, Microsoft Word, and a number of other formats.

$14.99/month - Windows Mac


Beware of Adobe’s “free” trial, as they may suck you in to a $600 annual contract without you knowing.


PDF-Tools from Tracker Software runs on Windows. It converts Word Documents, PDFs, and a number of other formats to PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 and PDF/X-4. If you’re used to working in Word, Libre Office, or Google Docs, this is the easiest way to get your document into PDF/X format.

You simply save your document from Word/Libre/Google, then convert the saved file. Conversion usually takes a few seconds. When it’s done, you can upload to Ingram Spark or your printer of choice.

It’s common to have to correct PDFs after you’ve reviewed the original proof. One of the benefits of PDF-Tools is that you can do your corrections in your editor of choice (Word, Google Docs, etc.) and then do the PDF conversion as the last step.

$67.50 purchase - Windows Only

Free Converters

Apple Quartz Filters

Older versions of Mac OS included a built-in Quartz filter that converted to PDF/X-3. It seems to have been removed from more recent versions of the operating system, but developer Ben Wiggy created a set of free replacement tools on GitHub.

If you’re running Mac OSX, click the green Download button on the main page and choose “Download Zip”. Unzip the files, then copy the fitler to the correct folder, as described here and copy the scripts to the correct folder, as described here.

While older versions of the PDF/X Mac Quartz Filter have worked well, more recent versions (after about OS 10.15) sometimes only convert the first section of your Word document to PDF. That means your PDF may contain only the title and copyright page instead of the entire document. Check your output if you’re using the Quartz filter.


Pstill converts regular PDFs to PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3. It runs on Mac, Windows, Linux and Unix. It’s free on all platforms except Windows.

The program requires some patience and techical knowledge to set up, and it has some limitations, including a minimal user interface on Windows and a command-line only interface on all other systems. Its biggest limitation may be its lack of support for TrueType fonts. This means that, without some work from you, it will may be able to render the fonts in Word documents as you would expect.

If you’re working on Linux or Unix, you’re probably using open fonts and won’t have this problem. In any case, pstill is probably not a good option for non-technical users.

$26.68 for Windows, Free on other platforms - Windows Mac - Linux - BSD

While conversion tools convert existing documents to PDF/X, print design tools allow you to manage all aspects of your print layout. Most require that you copy over content from Word (or other word processors) and then reformat it all. Once the copy/reformat is done, you can export the document to PDF/X and ePub formats. These tools offer better control over complex layouts but require substantial learning time.

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for print design. It has a steep learning curve, and to use it well, you should have a good understanding of typography and design principles.

If you’re laying out a book with few or no images and no fancy typography, you probably won’t want to spend twenty or thirty hours learning how to lay out something you’ve already laid out in Word. Look for other options.

If you’re laying out a book with many images and advanced typography, or you want to get started on becoming a print designer, this is the program to learn. (Also check out the free Scribus software and the substantially less expensive Affinity Publisher below.)

$20.99/month - Windows Mac


Beware of Adobe’s “free” trial, as they may suck you in to a $600 annual contract without you knowing.

Affinity Publisher

Affinity Publisher offers most of the same features as InDesign for substantially less money. If you want to design and customize complex layouts, this one is worth a try. If you’re planning on offering professional print design services, stick with InDesign.

Affinity Publisher exports to PDF/X formats and includes a free 90-day trial.

$49.99 purchase - Windows Mac


Scrivener does much more than just print PDF/X files. A favorite of writers and sreenwriters, it helps you outline, organize ideas, format your book, and export the results for both print and e-publishing.

Scrivener runs on Windows, Mac, and iOS. It has a bit of a learning curve but is rich in features and provides one of the only end-to-end solutions for both writing and print/ebook production.

$49.99 purchase - Windows Mac

$19.99 purchase - Mac

Free & Open-Source Print Design Tools


Scribus Desktop Publishing software provides features similar to Adobe InDesign. You can use it to lay out books, flyers, magazines, and other materials with varying page sizes. It’s fairly sophisticated, and has a bit of a learning curve.

Scribus does not convert documents directly from Word, though it can import “vanilla” PDFs and then convert those to PDF/X-1a, PDF/X-3 and PDF/X-4. This means you can format your document in Microsoft Word, Libre Office, or Google Docs, export it to PDF, and then use Scribus to convert that PDF to PDF/X.

One caveat: Scribus told me that some of the test documents I converted had errors such as “empty MediaBox,” but it didn’t describe what the errors meant, where they were, or how to fix them. I didn’t try uploading these files to IngramSpark, but Ingram’s PDF validation is fairly rigid, and if they rejected the document, I would not have known how to fix the problems.

Scribus runs in Windows, Mac, Linux, and BSD. You can download it for free from Scribus downloads page.

Free - - Windows Mac - Linux - BSD

Free Online Tools


Reedsy’s free online writing tool enables you to write your book, have it edited and proofread, and converted to print and ebook formats online. There’s nothing to install. All you need is a web browser.

The tool includes some other handy features, such as comments, revision history and publishing templates.

Free - - Windows Mac - Linux - BSD - iOS - Android

Last update: 2022-02-07